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Arkansas Farm Bureau backs animal cruelty bill

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP)--The Arkansas Farm Bureau has announced it will back legislation to make aggravated animal cruelty a felony on first offense, reversing its opposition to past efforts to stiffen the state's animal cruelty penalties.

The group, which represents 227,000 farmers in the state, said its board of directors voted Jan. 6 to support animal cruelty legislation being backed by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. The proposal, which McDaniel said he expects to file sometime next week, would make aggravated animal cruelty of horses, dogs and cats a felony on first offense.

McDaniel said Jan. 6 the legislation would provide a specific definition of cruel and inhumane treatment that causes injury or death to the animal. McDaniel said his proposal also would require that only certified law enforcement officers make arrests for animal cruelty offenses.

"This legislation includes very specific definitions of what constitutes cruelty, and places arrest authority in the hands of law enforcement officials," said Randy Veach, the bureau's president. "Those are the areas that have caused the most difficulty in past efforts to get an animal cruelty bill passed."

Veach said his group has opposed past felony proposals because the bureau believed the definitions were unclear. In addition, the bill would protect animal husbandry and farming practices, he said.

Arkansas is one of a handful of states that don't have first-offense felony animal-abuse laws. Arkansas law currently makes it a misdemeanor to abuse an animal, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The group's support removes a major obstacle for McDaniel's push for the animal cruelty penalties, which he said he expects to be supported by animal welfare groups also. McDaniel said the legislation will be co-sponsored by more than half the members of both the House and Senate judiciary committees, which would likely consider the proposal.

"I think what we're going to see is quick passage of this legislation once it is filed next week," McDaniel said.

McDaniel said the bill would also make cock fighting a felony in the state and would include a structured system for increasing penalties for subsequent animal cruelty misdemeanor violations. McDaniel said he doesn't expect any organized opposition to the bill.

The bill would make first-offense aggravated animal cruelty a Class D felony, punishable by up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine. A second offense within five years would be a Class C felony, punishable by between three and 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

"What we want to do is punish those people who are truly wanting to be cruel to these animals and that's the primary purpose of this legislation," he said.

2 Star EK\14-B

Date: 1/8/09

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